Why Obama Wants a Top Bush Lawyer to Head the FBI

James Comey challenged the legality of George W. Bush's wiretapping program, making him a hero to Democrats.

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Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / Getty Images

Former deputy attorney general James Comey at a hearing investigating the firings of U.S. attorneys in Washington on May 3, 2007

President Barack Obama has tapped former deputy attorney general James Comey to head the FBI, according to Administration officials. A Republican, his selection is likely to be met with broad bipartisan support. That has much to do with his sterling résumé, which includes his time at the Department of Justice and his record as the top prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

But it has even more to do with Comey’s leadership during the most important confrontation between U.S. law enforcement and the White House since Watergate. Comey is rightly viewed as a hero for his handling of the famous hospital incident of March 10, 2004, during which George W. Bush’s top White House aides, Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales, attempted to get bed-stricken, delirious Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize an electronic-surveillance program that Justice Department lawyers had determined was illegal.

Every article written about Comey in coming days will refer to the incident. None of them will capture it as Comey did himself in his testimony May 15, 2007:

One historical sidenote: Comey was persuaded to testify in part by a young aide to Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, Preet Bharara, whom Comey had mentored when he was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bharara now holds that job.